Should women teach in church? A friend of mine was invited to a church. She loved the teaching, felt like she was growing as a believer and in her relationship with God. She saw that the people there were loving and kind. It was a great community. She shared her joy with a friend who then immediately shut her down and told her she needed to stop going. Her reasoning? The pastor of that church was a woman and, according to my friend’s acquaintance, that was unbiblical and a sin before God. I watched my friend’s joy fade to uncertainty and eventually she just stopped going. Better to be safe than to perhaps participate in unrighteousness right?
If you have been in the church for a while, or if like me you were raised in the faith, then you have probably heard of the controversy surrounding women holding leadership roles over men. Believers are very divided on this issue and the more conservative among us are staunch in the belief that women simply should not teach. I’ve heard all kinds of logic about this.
Growing up I was told that women have to submit to men (especially their husbands) so they can’t go around being in leadership over them. I heard that women are too emotional to be in any position of leadership. They just aren’t cut out to be the cool-headed leaders that men can be. I’ve heard that Apostle Paul said women must not speak in the church. The biological and philosophical arguments behind this I choose not to address. You need to work that out for yourself. But since I am a believer, I am interested in what the Bible has to say about it. Let’s take a look.
Biblical restrictions against women speaking in the church
The main passages cited in opposition to women being allowed to teach is in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12. What do those verses say?
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (1 Corinthians 14:34-35).
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. (1Timothy 2:11-12)
Alright, two verses in the Bible saying practically the same thing. Case closed. Women should shut their mouths in spiritual matters involving the church as a whole or at least when men are present. “Should women teach in church?” Okay, but then I have a few questions as well.
Apostle Paul’s other words regarding women
Apostle Paul told Timothy in the next verse that “women will be saved through childbearing” (1 Tim 2:13). But everybody knows that Apostle Paul was an advocate for singleness (1 Cor 7). Shoot, then women are screwed either way if the men really follow Paul’s words. Thankfully most conservative Christians just ignore this chapter and focus on 1 Cor 14 instead. Saved.
If we are going to follow Paul’s guidance for women in regards to teaching literally and strictly, then women better apply all of his advice. What else does he say? Women should “dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” (1 Tim 2:9).
Hmm, that’s interesting. What is an “elaborate hairstyle?” According to other translations of the Bible it is specified as “braided hair.” Now that’s odd, because I have gone to a lot of traditional churches that denounce women pastors but whose female congregation wears their long hair in braids. Equally, it is odd because I have seen so many churches have a culture that emphasizes buying fancy (and often expensive) “Sunday dresses,” especially around Easter. In 1 Corinthians 11, Paul also tells us that women should cover their heads when they pray or prophesy. I don’t see that being equally applied either.
Are there women leaders in the Bible?
Remember that pesky Judge Deborah in the Old Testament? How did she squeeze into that leadership role among the men? Did God make a mistake? If we read the book of Judges we can see that not only did Deborah (who was married) speak on behalf of God, delivering his message and speaking his prophecies for the future, but she also judged over all Israel (Jgs 4:4-5). Gasp! You mean men too? Yes. Oddly enough, Barak, the male leader she gave God’s direction to, didn’t seem to doubt her words because of her gender. This should be quite interesting to those asking “should women teach in church.”
Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. (Judges 4:14)
Now that’s odd. So God was okay with having a woman deliver his message in the Old Testament but not in the New Testament?
What is the context of Apostle Paul’s letters?
Before you assume that I am advocating that we just throw away the words of Apostle Paul, let’s take a look at the situation of the church he was writing to. Let’s see what some of the women of the church were doing in 1 Timothy 5:13-15:
Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.
Furthermore, within this church there are false doctrines that are being taught by people who are desiring to be teachers but who don’t know what they are talking about (1 Tim 1:3-7). Paul goes on to specifically point out that Eve was the one who was deceived first in the face of lies (1 Tim 2:13-14). Similarly in 1 Corinthians 1, there are divisions going on in the church. It does not specify if these divisions and false teachings were caused by women or men. They could be from either or both, but it’s important to consider in light of his strictures against women speaking in the church.
So, what should we do? Ignore Apostle Paul’s words in support of feminism? Become fundamentalist Christians whose women wear only hand-sewn garments and silently go about in head coverings? Or judge whether or not I should accept the message spoken by a woman the same way I should judge the message spoken by a man? With the Bible and truth as the standard?
So, Should Women Teach in Church?
Women are mentioned in several places in the Bible in the role of prophetesses. How do we judge if a prophet’s words are true or not? In Deuteronomy 18:22, we are told to test if that prophet’s words come true. Is what they are saying aligned with truth and reality? Truth according to the Bible is the Word of God (John 17:17). If someone, anyone, whether they be man, woman, or animal, is sent by God to speak his Word of truth, then a believer better stand up and listen. In Numbers 22 whose mouth does God open to speak? A donkey’s. What was that donkey doing? Saving his rider from certain death at the hand of God’s angel!
When I asked my friend if she had found anything to be unbiblical or false within the teaching of that female pastor, she said she hadn’t. In fact, she felt like she was finally coming to know God’s will for her within the Bible and was understanding the deeper contents and messages that had always been a mystery to her. Correct understanding is something that can only happen if the spirit of God is present and working through that speaker (1 Cor 2:11-13). John tells us to test the spirits working within our teachers, not by their gender but by their words (1 John 4:1-6). Man looks at the outer appearance but God looks at the heart.
You may choose to reject the message of God if you want to because you don’t like the one speaking it. People rejected the prophets and Jesus too for the same reason. For myself, I will test the words that are spoken. If it is the truth coming from the Holy Spirit, I will listen no matter who is speaking, even if it is a donkey, or worse, a woman. So, should women teach in church? I hope this has been a meaningful article exploring the question and that through it we can all grow in faith.